Every journey starts with a single step. For Jesse Vogel, it was joining the junior NCSY program in his conservative synagogue. Jesse soon became very involved, as did most of the families in his synagogue, including a fellow NCSYer who later became his wife. One of Jesse’s favorite NCSY memories was when he was given special permission to attend Holliswood’s spring regional since his sister was the Regional president. Jesse had just made the decision to switch from public school to yeshiva for ninth grade and to his total surprise, Jesse was called up as “NCSYer of the Year” as an eighth grader. He continued to become chapter president and even won his chapter the ‘Chapter of the Year’ award.
“NCSY reshaped my life, I came from a Jewish oriented family but my Yiddishkiet would have never progressed past that if NCSY didn’t decide it was worthwhile to invest in my Conservative synagogue.“
In 2013, Jesse’s life was once again changed forever. Jesse and his family were living in Far Rockaway when Hurricane Sandy hit them hard and destroyed their entire house. The organization “Shomrim” was quick to the rescue, aiding Jesse’s as well as hundreds of other families affected by the hurricane, in cleaning out their house and moving out their garbage. Jesse was so grateful towards Shomrim and all that they did for him that he immediately joined and became the coordinator for night patrol in the area Far rockaway/Bayswater area.
Losing his house was a traumatic and emotional experience as one can imagine but to Jesse, it was obvious that it was all from G-d and meant to be. Jesse began writing down his thoughts and stories to share with his children later on when they were old enough to understand. Instead of focusing on what he lost, Jesse chose to focus on what he gained from the experience and all of the beautiful things that were done for him when he was in need from friends, family and his community. One day, Jesse’s friend suggested that he share his stories with others who were unaware to the extent to which the communities that were hit by the hurricane had actually been effected. The community helped Jesse raise the money and he eventually published his book, “Bent Not Broken.”
“I was always the least likely person to write a book. I always hated reading as a kid. The beauty of the iPhone is the microphone button, I would speak while I drove and then emailed it to myself and made some corrections at night. Anyone can do this, people have a lot more time available than they realize.
“Never give up, never stop striving. Once you give up, you’re stagnant and leave yourself no room for growth. Open up your eyes to see the hand of G-d in everyday life. Push yourself to grow on that. The Rambam talks about lightening equated with inspiration. If you are in dark woods will never find your way out, but if every time the lightening strikes you move a little bit towards your goal, you will get there eventually. Take advantage of those flashes of clarity in your life. You can do anything, you just have to want to be great.”